NHS FORTH VALLEY is said to be in "considerable trouble" as formal attempts are made to improve performance levels.

The health board has been placed under the government microscope with external expert support driving forward a recovery plan.

A letter from NHSScotland chief executive Paul Gray, sent to a Holyrood committee just a week before Christmas, revealed ongoing issues at NHS Forth Valley.

The health board has been escalated to stage 3 in the NHS Board Performance Framework, a government system used to provide additional support to improve performance and address issues.

It scales from grades 1-5, where 5 is the most severe scenario which only ministers can escalate to.

Stage 3 means there is a “significant variation from plan” at NHS Forth Valley, with “risks materialising” and “tailored support required”.

The board was notified it has been escalated to this level in December to “improve unscheduled care performance”.

The move came within two weeks of the health board’s A&E performance dropping to only 58.2 per cent of patients seen, treated and discharged within the four hour target.

A recovery was made to 75.7 per cent the week after – still far below the 95 per cent target.

The Scottish Government said it works with boards to make sure “patient care remains the top priority”.

However, Conservative MSP Alexander Stewart told the Advertiser the revelation showed “a health board in considerable trouble”.

He said: “Throughout my tenure, I have highlighted Forth Valley’s ongoing difficulties on many occasions including its failure in meeting targets and unacceptable patient waiting times.

“But my reservations have never been taken on board and this is not good for both the community and for their patients awaiting treatment.

“I am also dealing with many ongoing cases where my constituents are being systematically failed by the health board, so it was clear that something had to give eventually.”

He paid tribute to the “incredibly hard-working” staff, saying that ultimately “the blame for all this should be laid firmly at the SNP Scottish Government’s door”.

A spokesman for the government said: “We work closely with all NHS boards to ensure that patient care remains the top priority and, when necessary, adjust their category status to help address any issues.

“NHS Forth Valley was moved to stage 3 in order to provide additional support to improve unscheduled care performance.

“The board was notified on 14 December.”

A spokeswoman for the health board told the Advertiser: “NHS Forth Valley has a grade 3 classification, which indicates tailored help is required, together with a recovery plan, to ensure performance meets expected standards.”

Meanwhile, Wee County MSP Keith Brown has requested a meeting with NHS Forth Valley’s chief executive in the wake of the revelations.

The SNP representative said NHS staff “work hard all year round” and “deserve our thanks and appreciation”.

He also hit back following a Conservative attack on the government’s delivery of health services.

The MSP said: “I have requested a meeting with the chief executive of NHS Forth Valley in the new year to discuss how the increased supports put in place as part of the Stage 3 process will help to deliver better services for local people and I look forward to hearing her plans to make improvements.

“The Tories’ record on the NHS is dire – not only was NHS Scotland shortchanged by over £50million in their recent budget, they continue to pose the greatest threat to Scotland’s NHS with their austerity cuts, Brexit shambles and the power grab allowing them to impose private market forces against Scotland’s will.”